What Google TV and Apple TV Should Do

Just because it seems like much of the internet wants television to be delivered outside traditional platforms doesn’t mean that it’s a good business to pursue. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I think the future of TV is TV. But what is the future of entertainment on your TV ? Entertainment on your TV and TV (video programming) on your TV are not the same thing.

The first question to ask is “Why is TV so popular ?”. Why do so many millions spend so many billions in order to watch the shows, movies and events that TV serves up ?  The answer is the clue to what the future of Apple/Google and their device competitors should be.

TV is the best cure for boredom.  That is what makes TV so popular.

TV is the path of least resistance alternative to doing nothing. When you do nothing. Time passes too slowly. When you are doing something, even something that barely requires consciousness, like watching TV, there is the chance that time will go by more quickly. We look for the path of least resistance to passing time whenever we are bored. All it takes is a click of the tv remote. The boredom ends and there is even the chance that we will be entertained and really like what we are watching. So there is also significant upside to watching TV. So we watch a shitload of TV .

Now ask yourself what you do when you are bored to tears and you don’t have a TV available.  Used to be you played solitaire at your PC at work. Or maybe back in the day you picked up a magazine or book. Now we go to our laptops or  phones. We check our email. Maybe we check a couple websites. But even that burns a limited amount of time.

Once we are done with those mundane tasks and a TV is still not available,  we turn back  to our PC/Phone/device and we play games.

Why do you think social games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc are so popular ? Because they are the path of least resistance to ending boredom when there isn’t a TV around. Add to this the brilliant addition of the social element of competing with your friends that facebook provides and gaming has gone to a whole new level

Yes, there were competitive social games before, but none on a platform everyone you know is already on (facebook). None where they had to do nothing  to join the game and could do it on their own schedule.

Social games are the non TV cure for boredom.

So what do Apple TV IOS and Google TV Android platform offer ? That’s right . Social Games on your TV.

There in lies their Holy Grail to competing with TV.

This isn’t Farmville vs Dancing with the Stars.  This is about the best alternative to boredom.

If Google , Apple and their competitors can find simple games that are compelling to tens of millions of people and create a unique experience on your HDTV, they have a chance to start pulling people away from watching shows on TV.  You could actually see the number of hours spent watching TV decline materially.

Look at the most successful TV programming. American Idol. Dancing with the Stars. Both have a unique social element, voting. People discuss their votes with each other. People take pride in keeping “their choices” on the show (trust me, this is what kept me on Dancing with the Stars). Even Football has Fantasy Football with millions playing. How many times have you watched games with someone more interested in Fantasy scores than the score of the game . “Fall down at the 1 yard line is not an unheard of scream in a group of guys watching a game”

Google and Apple (and  at some point MicroSoft and maybe Sony or Nintendo) have platforms that are open enough to developers who can develop simple games that anyone can play with a facebook login. It wont require any real skill to play, will be very simple, but very addictive.  The law of numbers says someone will come along and invent a game, played best on your TV through one of these boxes,  that catches the imagination of tens of millions and is played on TV nationally or maybe even globally. It’s not inconceivable that this game will release new features, some Power Ups or unique incentives  if you tune in at 8pm EST on thursday night.

The possibility  of millions of people playing some game on Google TV OR Apple TV at the same time has the chance to put a hurt on traditional TV providers. Not whether or not Hulu and Fox , ABC, NBC are blocked from Google TV.

Of course its going to take a few years for enough of either box to get out in the marketplace at current prices.  But its not inconceivable that the right game could drive the uptake of enough boxes to move people from TV Shows to Games on TV

If Apple and Google try to pre empt traditional TV distributors using TV content, the only winner is Netflix and the traditional tv distributors and networks.

If Apple and Google try to   create their own alternatives to boredom, then their only competition is from each other and other comparable platforms. And it really will come down to luck. No one can plan to have that first entertainment application on a device platform that catches the imagination of the country and results in millions of people playing each other at the same time.

But its a business model for Apple and Google that will work.

Before you can win any business, you have to understand what business you are in.

TV as a whole is not in the business of creating great content. Its in the business of curing boredom. Always has been. It has always been the cure with the path of least resistance. Apple and Google TV need to realize that their cures for boredom using TV content won’t ever be the path of least resistance (typing in a search term ain’t it).  BUT, they have a unique development platform that traditional distribution ‘s set top boxes aren’t designed to support. They could create an alternate cure for boredom that is the path of least resistance for tens of millions.

But they have to change the game, not play the same old game.

38 thoughts on “What Google TV and Apple TV Should Do

  1. Upload viewing information without personally identifiable info. Download skippable relevant interest-based TV commercials.well-known entrepreneur and founder of cable channel HDNet..

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  3. What Google TV should do is:
    1. Forget proprietary hardware. Use a standard PC and tuner card.
    2. Have robust DVR software. Include DVD burning option.
    3. Have great googley apps. Automatically records what facebook friends are watching etc. Intelligent recommendations and automatic recording.
    4. Do it all with Open Source.
    5. Upload viewing information without personally identifiable info. Download skippable relevant interest-based TV commercials.
    6. Make the whole system free, supported by ad revenue.
    Thats what I would do.

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  13. I´m the same oponion, what Google TV and Apple TV should Do Just because it seems like much of the internet wants television to be delivered outside traditional platforms.

    Comment by andreas391 -

  14. Mark,
    You and I are the exact same age and you can appreciate that as kids we watched the Jetsons with their interactive TVs and it was fascinating and Having had a vision of what would become the internet – I became passionate about bringing about an interactive experience in 1978 and went about finding people and technologies to make it happen and did.
    In the year 1999 I sat for three months with engineers and mapped out way to give people movies on demand – fully downloaded in less than 15 minutes because we figured out how to do so effectively.
    Further – in the 1990’s I realized that everyone was focused on the technology side of this convergence and since I am not an engineer and really wanted to take advantage of the end product – I began focusing on how to make it a viable and profitable.
    In the year 2000 I introduced to Disney Interactive division to a Membership Rewards program which is a watered down version of what I actually intended to propose to them but I’m not in the habit of giving away highly viable marketing strategies to a multi-billion dollar company especially when one of their own executives told me that Disney steals ideas.
    None the less the Disney Membership Rewards program is their most successful -marketing program ever and people want content when they want it – not always when it is broadcast and now that the new NetTVs are here at Best Buy and other stores – the game is on.
    Apple is the closest to be poised to give people content on demand from walking with it as in the case of the iphone – to being able to port in or email your data and better yet the iTunes store will soon be a virtual access to all content on-Demand and as I poised the Big 3 Studios this question in the year 2000 – “You have nearly 500 channels right now and have no solid way of keeping track of what people are watching – what are you going to do when there is Five Million Channels – 50 Million Channels because the technology is here now and within the next decade you will have any website that desires to do video- streaming will be the equivalent of a Network Broadcast – how will you monetize then?”
    Yes – bandwidth cost is a bit of an issue but soon you will see that Cable companies raise their prices on their broadband service and tens of thousands of people every month are switching off their TVs and opting for Internet only – I have had 5 tenants in the last three years opt out of having a TV in their fully furnished room because they only used their laptops – that’s one very small example.
    So dear friend – you can speculate that what you are saying is true for the masses or simply focus your HDnet services to the crowd that I mentioned. Yes it will take another 5 years to reach critical mass – but it will and no one believed me when I said that music stores would go away before this decade was out and I further stated that CDs would go very quickly off the market – by around 2012 and it’s looking very clear that I’m within that range.
    I truly respect what you have done in your career and the management of your tremendous wealth and the wisdom to retain your wealth when the vast majority went the opposite direction of you and I challenge you to personally look me up and I will share with you 40 years of looking outside the box and seeing what people really want when market studies, research and check out my website with technologies that will absolutely amaze you.


    Comment by sterlingmichaels -

  15. Have any of you ever read the book called “Blue Ocean Strategy”? This is the exact concept Mark lays out here, and the blue ocean strategy model can be applied to any and all business industries. It is one of the most informative business books I have ever read, and it will open your eyes to a whole new way of thinking about business and competition in general.

    Great post Mark.

    Comment by samsawyer -

  16. I believe that TV and Netflix on Demand is a cure for the static created by “apps”, the “internet”, “facebook”, “twitter”… The last thing I want is more interaction or a bunch of “things” competing for my attention. I CHOOSE TV because its not asking me to do anything. Heck, with TIVO/DVR’s its not asking me to watch ads anymore. Allowing me to reduce interruption, is the single mitigating factor that has “increased” the time I watch TV. I can stomach a whole variety of programming (including regular season sporting events :-)). The fact is, I/we have carved out some time to let our brains be entertained and to escape. In my humble opinion, TV is a “salve” for consumers not having any time to be bored as opposed to a cure for boredom. BTW: Does anyone even know a person who suffers from boredom?

    Comment by dallasmarc -

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  21. When somebody is watching news on tv that means he is bored too?

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  23. Like @CarriBugbee, I think this is an incredibly simplified post about what’s really going on here.

    Last night, I spent three plus hours consuming various types of media content – ALL on my computer. From watching an old episode of SNL on Hulu, to reading your blog post (which I found through someone else I’m following on Twitter), to watching several YouTube videos, to updating my Facebook and sharing several links with friends.

    Never once was I inclined to turn on my television. To say that TV is the highest form of entertainment to cure boredom is, well, irrelevant.

    Very few people just sit and watch three hours of straight TV programming without checking their email, updating their Facebook, and visiting their favorite celebrity gossip blog in the interim. If only we could just do it all on one device….

    Studies are showing that content consumption is changing – at a rapid pace. In the 50’s, people turned on their TV’s at a specific time, every night, to watch a specific program sponsored by a single corporation. Out of this, the ratings system was born. Decades later, cable came along, as well as satellite TV (which you know all about), shaking up the traditional broadcast industry. Then along came DVR’s, a technology that has somehow continued to elude our current ratings systems, and people realized they could watch what they wanted WHEN they wanted.

    It’s not about whether TV is the cure for boredom. It’s about whether the gatekeepers of traditional media are going to catch on, and leverage, current media consumption trends into new revenue models. Younger generations don’t want to pay for cable and satellite packages with shows we don’t need or want. We don’t buy CD’s anymore – we buy single tracks on iTunes. We don’t purchase subscriptions to newspapers, we just find online content that best fits the section of the newspaper we WOULD have been reading. And most importantly, we want to be able to discover content much like we browse the web, when it’s most convenient for us.

    Available content, in and of itself, is expanding at lightning speed. From blogs to web series, online games to live web TV, the possibilities for entertainment seem virtually endless!

    The challenge, with all of this content, is figuring out how to view it all in one place. People just need a device, i.e. the 42-inch ‘TV’ screen, that serves their fickle viewing/consumption needs. They want to watch Entourage and then share the episode link with all their friends on Twitter. From there, a retweet of a NY Times article header might catch their eye. They jump to that article. Off to the side of article is a video preview clip to a documentary that National Geographic just released. They click the video preview, and decide to buy the documentary via iTunes. Call it ADD, but this is the trend in media consumption, particularly in youth who grew up with video games, email, and social networking.

    The ratings and traditional advertising system is outdated. Networks should be looking at a tiered revenue stream from the different platforms – up-front payments, advertising, as well as affiliate purchases from people buying products placed in shows (I want the dress that Blake Lively is wearing on Gossip Girl! I double click on the dress on my GoogleTV, it sends me to the merchandise’s website, I purchase the dress for $400, and bam, the CW just made a 5% affiliate fee.)

    In your case, Mr. Cuban, feel free to charge me an extra $0.99 to watch HDNet’s Bikini Destinations via my GoogleTV. Develop a titillating social game based on the show, as well as a way for me to purchase one of the bikinis the girls are wearing. Maybe I’ll even tweet about it to my 10,000+ followers.

    As someone active in both the digital media creation space and traditional media (I’ve sold shows on both sides of the spectrum), I am watching first hand how rogue individuals (YouTubers, bloggers, internet personalities), free from ratings and satellite package systems, are getting creative and setting the curve. How long will it take for the rest of the entertainment industry to jump on ship?

    From what I know of you, you are an astute businessman, out-of-the-box thinker, and let’s be honest, very funny on Entourage. And while I think your comments re: game development above are fairly accurate, just don’t take yourself out of the all-in-one-device game by generalizing about consumption patterns.

    Talk to the average 18 year old male (ironically, the very same money-spending demographic you would probably want to watch Bikini Destinations…) and let me know what they have to say.


    From MC> Taryn you are confusing popularity with profitability. Sometimes they go hand in hand. Sometimes they dont. Youtube and online content and entertainment are all great. They have in fact disrupted many industries. Newspapers. Music and more. But they haven’t disrupted TV because the business and numbers are different. The internet disrupts businesses with legacy ala carte business models (music/newspapers/magazines/books), it doesnt disrupt aggregation based business models. In fact the most successful business models on the net are aggregation plays. Aggregation doesnt disrupt aggregation

    Comment by Taryn Southern -

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  25. Great insight, as usual. We’re thinking that YouTube Rental (Google owned) will also be a game changer. I hate advertising, so I’d rather pay $1.99 to rent a movie than have to see distracting ads for things I don’t want to buy. Right now you can only rent movies from YouTube on your computer, but they will soon turn on the rental component for TV. I can already watch YouTube videos on my big flat panel. I love streaming Netflix films, but they don’t have much of a selection. I’m also renting from Blockbuster on my TV, but they lack great independent content. I think YouTube Rentals will fill a huge gap for niche markets. We’re testing this now, but won’t see a real test till the TV component is turned on. It’s exciting times and there is huge opportunity for independent content creators.

    Comment by nelsonmadisonfilms -

  26. really good post.

    TV starts off as cure for boredom but then people become addicted to their favourite shows etc and end up planning in order to see those programs. I have a friend who would miss coming out on Friday night to see a tv show. So what starts off as boredom can soon become an addiction.

    Comment by jensontaylor -

  27. Excellent post, and I think the precedent for what you’re suggesting stretches all the way back to Atari and early TV console gaming devices. When Microsoft brought the XBox to market, I think they were also working this angle. The original social TV games were the ones that used TWO game controllers instead of one.

    I want to reiterate that Google TV and Apple TV are platforms, which will foster entrepreneurial innovation. The better the platform, the better the new products will be, and the bigger the market share for the platform.

    I’m suggesting that social TV is already here, in its embryonic form. The Nintendo Wii has a web browser, youtube viewer, and netflix client. Among early adopters, I’d estimate 20% currently use their TV as a big monitor for their computer, which is set up in front of the couch. Why is this social TV? Because you can stumble through the youtube archive based on their recommender system, and you can still rate videos and read/write comments.

    That’s why I’m so excited by content platforms like YouTube: in the future, people will be able to experience today’s content in a radically different way. As a specific example, http://localshow.tv reuses existing music videos to sell concert tickets, even though those videos were originally created to sell albums.

    Did you ever imagine a TV channel that was non-stop commercials? QVC managed to make it work with products, but there are totally new markets out there, and new content platforms will enable entrepreneurs to sell to those markets. As more people put a net-enabled device in front of their couch, the shift from broadcast to narrowcast will enable radically different ways of relating to the TV.

    For example, localshow.tv is using the term ‘slices’ to describe a channel that contains a specific type of content. Specifically, out of the entire universe of music videos, a person in Toronto might be interested in the ‘Toronto slice’, crossed with the ‘alternative music slice’ and the ‘November slice.’ It behaves like a TV channel, but it’s a concert browsing/ticket purchasing application, and it’s able to provide much greater personalization than a broadcast alternative.

    If the audience sizes were the same, which do you think will sell more tickets: broadcast or narrowcast? …and working backwards from that point, the platform that provides the best ecosystem for entrepreneurs to accomplish a business goal (e.g. sell tickets) will be the predominant content platform.

    I think games will be a huge thing for Google TV and Apple TV, but I’m watching out for the ways those platforms will change how we interact with the rest of the TV universe…

    Comment by iandennismiller -

  28. I think that some people are just bored and want to relax so they watch TV, but the fact is that TV has been baked into our brains since we were kids so it’s a comfort thing and gets our attention/time almost by default.

    If the best shows are the ones with interactivity then why don’t more shows bake that into theirs? Most of them are about voting, but what happens when you ask the audience to predict what’s going to happen (in dramas) and then award prizes or something to move people from becoming just passive viewers to evangelists. I know that would be a challenging thing to do but I’m sure something could be done, and will be eventually.

    Awesome post Mark, always love reading your perspective on everything tech and media!

    Comment by unleashvideo -

  29. I never really thought of why I watch tv as much as I do until you wrote about it this way. I probably watch 12 hours a week and outside of 3 hours of shows I don’t want to miss and 3 hours of a Browns football game, the rest is boredom killing.

    Mark, I have a question for you. I agree with your position that games on a TV platform will be a huge thing in the future. How do I do the research on which companies are out in front of this battle so maybe I can invest in a couple of them.

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  31. Mark, I think you are right on with focus on gaming. I saw your post requesting developers and you continue to point out the human nature in all of us to compete. I am ready for Google TV or Apple TV or some type of device to make my TV more social. However I keep wondering why my Sony Playstation 3 which provides gaming, netflix, hard drive, wireless, etc, DOES NOT have an easier interface for the internet. I beleive you are absolutely correct that Netflix is positioned very well, however I think the game console to partner with Google TV is going to a game changer. Sony recently started selling the first TV’s with Google TV…is a deal to bring Google TV to PS3 next? http://www.yourbrandvoice.com

    Comment by bryanbruce -

  32. Your conclusions are flawed, based on your analysis above. TV and everything else for that matter, are in the business of selling product. Doesn’t matter what that product is. Furthermore, it’s not a valid cure for boredom, as most things these days that you state are traditional TV are somewhere in the high 80’s on The Suck Scale. In addition, the method by which I receive traditional TV has been changed forever, simply because I no longer have to rush home to watch my favorite show at any specific time, simply because I can watch it at the time I want to, subject to my schedule. IF I WANT TO.

    As a content creator, right now, I’ve got the TV going in the background as pink noise. That’s all it is. I could turn that off if I so desired, and watch something online, like tonight’s Dexter. When I have the time.

    I”ve got a screenplay to complete, so if you’ll excuse me….

    Comment by Matches Malone -

  33. Mark, you need an editor. Seriously. Reading this was painful.

    Anyway, the notion that TV is nothing more than a cure for boredom is much too simplistic. There are MANY things we can do to cure boredom. Plus, most people I know are time-starved. Boredom is never part of the equation.

    Likewise, most people care about the quality of their entertainment. If they didn’t, they’d be perfectly happy watching Dukes of Hazzard reruns. On video. There would be no market for premium channels – or even cable TV.

    While it’s debatable that American Idol offers high-quality entertainment (I’ve never watched it myself), it does offer a shared cultural experience that people enjoy – perhaps even crave. Most people are inherently social and like having something in common they can discuss with their coworkers, family members and even the clerk at the grocery store. People also like contests. As a sports dude, you already know that.

    This is why in the age of DVRs and on-demand, we still have “appointment television.” And coordinating our schedules around appointment viewing isn’t always convenient. It certainly doesn’t coincide neatly with the times that people are bored – IF they’re bored.

    @diego2thebay if you like chatting with people about your favorite programs, you should be on Twitter. That’s where this happens in a big way. Just look for the hashtag (i.e., #MadMen or #Dexter) for your favorite show in Twitter search.


    Comment by CarriBugbee -

  34. Hey Mark, social games on the TV is a great idea. I’m writing a report on Social TV right now, and will have to add something on social gaming.

    I think these social TV games will happen once Google TV’s app store launches in 2011. I think the TV app market will be pretty big once consumers get their hands on Google TV or Apple TV devices.

    Other than having an App Store, these two devices are serving two different markets. Google TV is for those that have a TV Service Provider, while Apple TV is for cord-cutters. I think Apple is going after the wrong market, but perhaps they will turn to working with Service Providers.

    Comment by Jose Alvear -

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  36. It will be interesting to see WHERE Google and Apple do this. REhashing ins’t going to work, like you said. There wont be an intense desire to run a farm or be in a mafia on my TV.

    What I notice most about TV is as much as we like watching it, we like talking about what we watched. I go to my work and talk about “The Office”, or the sporting event I just saw, or whatever else is on TV. I like the idea of incorporating a debate live while watching things. In sports, it seems like it would work best because we can survive on images alone. Thus I can hop on with friends everywhere and criticize Joe Girardi as the game happens. For sports, also, this is a natural evolution. We know already how much social has done for sports, how we tweet what we watch live. So I wont be shocked to see a TV with a built in camera and an APP that lets me live chat/debate about sports as things happen (no pesky keyboards required like your “section 144” on ESPN, or whatever it’s called.

    For your basic programming, I’m not sure how this would work. But we do love debating Idol results, making fun of Snooky, or trying to figure out “House” as it’s going on. When you put all the programming out there, it opens the door for programming-debate. Programming-conversation – to a level we’d never though of, as instant as a hot pocket.

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  38. Mark, Great perspective as usual. You are right, TV is a cure for boredom. So are most apps on smartphones. So is Zynga, Farmville, etc. Who would have thought tens of millions of people would play farmer on Zynga?

    Bill Gurley wrote a great article “How the TV business actually works” http://read.bi/9UnKj4 In it he explains how it is all about Affiliate Fees. The TV guys are on top of this in a way the music guys never were.

    Essentially, the TV content producers want Internet entrepreneurs to pay up front for their content in the form of fees. If Internet entrepreneurs can make money in interesting ways…great…but no free ride. This is what NetFlix is doing with their subscriptions.

    Bringing online gaming from the computer screen to the big TV screen, and making it social, is an interesting idea.

    Comment by dondodge -

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